By legal definition, wrongful death is any incident in which a person dies either due to an intentional act or negligence, which is classified as carelessness or inaction that has caused harm. Unfortunately, poor care in nursing homes is responsible for many premature deaths in elderly patients. However, many of these premature deaths are never investigated because the attending physicians usually assume that an elderly patient’s death is related to an existing medical condition. Some facilities may even deliberately attempt to cover up the cause of a patient’s death if it is known that some form of negligence may be at fault.
Fear of Litigation
The greatest motivation for facilities to conceal a patient’s cause of death is to avoid a civil lawsuit in which the facility would be required to pay a large sum in damages. Malnourishment, dehydration and infection can be symptoms of common illnesses in the elderly, but they can also be evidence of neglect and improper care. Rather than perform a thorough investigation into the cause of patients’ deaths, facilities with much to lose may try to cover up the cause of death if only to prevent the families of the deceased from seeking damages.
Most elderly patients already suffer from a myriad of potentially life threatening medical conditions. Attending physicians are often quick to attribute an elderly patient’s death to one of those conditions rather than performing a proper investigation in order to be certain. The hastiness to declare a cause of death is generally just laziness on part of the doctor and staff, which may not see the importance of determining the correct cause of death. Efforts need to be made to hold these physicians accountable due to the fact that the cause of death is important in determining if negligence had a factor and if the nursing home bears any responsibility.
How to determine if you have a Wrongful Death Case
Wrongful death cases involve any death that was caused by either willful acts that led to the person’s death or failure to take measures that would prevent someone’s death. The majority of wrongful death cases against nursing homes are due to negligence, or the failure to give proper care, resulting in the death of the patient. If your loved one suffered from any of the following conditions, it may warrant an investigation into the true cause of his or her death.
- Bed Sores— bed sores are preventable and easily treatable in their early stages. If allowed to progress, however, they can become infected and cause complications that can lead to sepsis and death.
- Dehydration— one of the telltale symptoms of dehydration is sudden and unexplained weight loss. Poor hydration can cause severe complications that include death.
- Malnourishment— many of the symptoms of malnourishment mimic those of dehydration. Weight loss can be a sign of malnourishment, dehydration or both.
- Medication errors— it is very common for nursing homes to give patients the wrong dosage of their medications or to give them the wrong medicine entirely. Doctors may prescribe new medications without considering drug interactions. If your loved one died after a recent adjustment to his or her medication, medication error may have contributed to his or her death.
Seeking Legal Intervention in Untimely Death Cases
Many wrongful death cases go unnoticed because families do not ask the proper questions or are quick to believe the initial prognosis that is reported to them. If the circumstance behind your loved one’s death does not make sense, do not be afraid to demand answers to that which does not make sense. If you suspect that your loved one’s death may be the fault of negligence, it is best to consult with an attorney that is experienced in nursing home abuse matters in order to determine if you have reason for concern.